Hey, remember when, all the way back in chapter one, I theorized that summer weather in the south sucks sweaty, humid balls? I was wrong. Winter weather in the south sucks sweaty, humid balls. I don’t want to imagine which sweaty, humid body part and/or cavity is resembled by the southern summer.
Ned is paying a visit to Grand Maester Pycelle (long aside: in my head, I always read his name as the French word “pucelle,” which means “virgin,” and then immediately get the song Belle from the musical Notre Dame de Paris stuck in my head) who offers him iced milk with honey as a remedy for sweaty, humid ball–sucking heat. That sounds disgusting, but Ned accepts it. While they wait for a servant to bring it, Pycelle rambles endlessly about the last really long and hot summer. How much can one person have to say on the subject of weather? Pycelle apologizes for the long tangent and makes the excuse that his old mind has rusted like an old sword. He should’ve mentioned that to Tyrion and gotten the “use books like whetstones” advice.
Disgusting drinks in hand, servants out of earshot, they return to the real topic of their conversation: Jon Arryn’s death. Pycelle is demonstrating informed hindsight, insisting that he saw signs of Arryn’s illness before his untimely death, he just didn’t realize what it was at the time. As Grand Maester, isn’t he supposed to be the land’s top medic? You’d think he wouldn’t be so quick to describe himself as incompetent. When Arryn fell sick, a Maester Colemon attended him, but Pycelle sent him away. I don’t remember if we learn any particular details about the poison that killed Arryn, but I’m sensing the implication that Colemon almost saved him and would have if it weren’t for Pycelle. There is a lot of information about Lysa Arryn’s hysterics and Robert’s bedside visit, but the two important things are: 1) before his death, Arryn borrowed a book from Pycelle; and 2) his last words were “the seed is strong.”
Despite Ned’s prodding, Pycelle will not admit to seeing anything wrong with Arryn’s death, so Ned suggests poison openly. Pycelle admits it as a possibility and points the finger at Varys. No real reason, just that Varys is a eunuch, Lysene, and generally a slippery bastard. Ned arranges for that book to be sent to him as soon as Pycelle finds it, asks if Cersei was at Arryn’s bedside too (she wasn’t, she was on her way to her father’s castle) and leaves.
Ned gets a reprieve from politics when he runs into Arya on his way back to his chambers. Arya is practising standing on one foot for her swordmaster. Maybe he plans to enter her in a karate tournament and is preparing for the eventuality that the evil dojo master’s evil pupil will break her leg before the decisive final match. Ned reminisces about going to the castle’s godswood to offer thanks for Bran’s recovery and then he and Arya talk about the Stark children’s futures. Bran can’t be a knight anymore, but Ned says he can be a great lord, a king’s councillor, or High Septon. When Arya asks if those are her options too, he tells her that her only option is child-bearing, it’s just a matter of whose children. Arya shrugs that off as Sansa’s fate and goes back to practising. It need not be said how little Ned’s predictions have to do with the future books.
Ned’s next encounter is with Littlefinger. They make smalltalk about Ser Barristan’s merits and failings and then Littlefinger gets down to business. Ned didn’t think he would get the chance to question any of Arryn’s servants since Lysa took them all back to the Eyrie, but Littlefinger is here to tell him that some were left behind, including Arryn’s squire, now a knight. Because Littlefinger investigates better than you, Ned. Littlefinger also knows that summoning anyone straight to Ned’s office is a stupid thing to do; even though spies are everywhere, it’s worth it to at least try and conceal one’s comings and goings. The wiser course of action is to send a reliable man to see these people.
A funny tidbit of this conversation: the Westerosi equivalent of selling someone theBrooklynbridge is selling someone a palace in Valyria.
Littlefinger: You should trust no one.
Ned: I’m sorry I didn’t trust you before. I trust you now.
Jon is teaching Dareon, one of his fellow recruits (Arya will *spoiler* *spoiler* *spoiler* in *spoiler* ahahaha!), how to do some sword fighting thing when their attention is drawn to a new arrival. It’s Sam! Hi, Sam! I love Sam, he brings some much-needed snark to the northern proceedings, which have been lacking in it since Tyrion departed. Three things you need to know about him: 1) he’s obviously from a noble family; and 2) he’s so fat it counts as two items in a list. Pyp, the resident Mr. Higgings, places Sam as a Highgardener by his accent. Thorne wastes no time being an ass, probably because he doesn’t want anyone to accuse him of being classist and only insulting bastards and commoners.
Thorne wastes no time stuffing Sam into some too-small armor and setting an extra-strong older boy to spar with him, but which I mean beat him up. The older boy, Halder, keeps abusing Sam under Thorne’s insistence, until Jon can’t stand it anymore and puts a stop to it. Thorne is less than receptive to having his authority challenged, he makes Jon face off against Halder and two other boys. Jon braces himself for the three-on-one, but two of the boys he’s befriended join him. Jon and his back up take some hits, but ultimately win the face-off. Thorne takes his ball and goes home like the pissy little boy he is.
With Thorne gone, the boys are fairly relaxed and friendly around each other. Sam helps Jon, whose shoulder was hurt in the fight, take off his helmet and introduces himself. He’s Samwell Tarly, the son and heir of a Lord Randyll and is, in fact, from Highgarden. Jon must have taken Tyrion’s advice about reclaiming “bastard” to heart because he introduces himself as Ned Stark’s bastard. Pyp and Grenn join in for some good-natured ribbing, but it all grinds to a halt when Sam straight-forwardly calls himself a coward. This is a thing teenage boys do not do. Everyone is shocked and amazed, but then Pyp’s sharp tongue and Grenn’s dim-wittedness diffuse the situation and Jon leaves them to their argument.
After morning swordplay, the recruits get to perform various duties on a rotating schedule to see where their talents lie. Jon prefers ranger work, going out to hunt with his wolf, but today he’s in charge of re-gravelling the icy path on top of the Wall. He thinks about Sam and wonders what Tyrion would’ve made of him. Tyrion really made a mark on the kid, didn’t he? Through this train of thought, Jon comes to the conclusion that there’s merit in being honest and clear-headed about one’s own weaknesses.
When Jon gets back to the common hall for dinner, he’s got a choice to make. His friends at one table, laughing at Pyp’s acting antics, and Sam at another, alone. Jon’s already the budding leader the story needs him to be, so he picks Sam. FYC is a good ice-breaker. When there’s an albino direwolf at the table, there’s a natural way to begin the conversation, you know? Sam seems like he’s about to cry again and Jon decides the conversation is better off happening under the Wall. Big structure, tends to overshadow everything, and you can’t get away from it, has Sam noticed?
(verbatim) Sam: I’m fat, not blind. (That’s the Sam I know and love!)
Sam explains that “snow” and “cold” are theoretical constructs in the south, so the Castle Black is a really foreign place for him. Also, he’s afraid of heights. When Jon asks if he’s afraid of everything, Sam starts crying, and Jon doesn’t know what to do with that. FYC to the rescue! He’s an ice-breaker and a tear-stopper! Afterwards, the boys settle into a comfortable companionship to talk. Jon admits he’s been dreaming about Winterfell, in his dreams it’s an empty place and he’s always looking for a family member but finding no one, and finally he ends up in the crypts that wait for all the Starks and wakes up.
Time for Sam’s story. Sam is a dancing, singing, kitten-loving child of a proud warrior lord. After all attempts to discipline or shame him into becoming more warrior-like failed and his baby brother showed signs of being the heir his father gave 15-year-old Sam a choice: go north and take the black or I hunt you down and slaughter you like a pig. Lest we think Lord Randyll Tarly is a complete monster, he also said he didn’t want to grieve his wife so he wasn’t going to tell her the “slaughtered like a pig” part, he was going to say Sam was killed in a hunting accident. Jon invites Sam to go back in and join the rest of the boys, but Sam opts to go to bed and get some rest before the next day’s torture by Thorne.
Jon does go back in and tells the boys that they’re leaving Sam alone. He’s already the leader of his group, so his friends agree, but Rast, one of the raping recruits, laughts it off. The next morning, Rast tells his buddies that he cut himself shaving. Well, it was with a direwolf tooth razor and he had to be held down, but yeah, sure. Thorne continues his attempts to make the recruits use Sam like a training dummy, but their decision on the subject holds. Sam joins the group and one day comes to thank Jon for what he did.
It’s at this point that Jon lets go of Winterfell and accepts what his Uncle Ben once told him. Robb, Bran, and Rickon are his loved ones, but the Night’s Watch men are his brothers and Castle Black is now his home.